2011 In Review

I am back from my Caribbean cruise and my last winter break ever is now over. Last Wednesday I arrived back in Flagstaff, delighted by the lack of snow on the ground. I had my last first day of class this week. Weird. Looking forward to finishing this thing called “school.” The NAU Track team already had their first meet a week ago, so coaching has certainly begun in earnest.

Before I continue on with my adventures of 2012, I want to recap 2011 (as I did for 2009 and 2010)…

2011 began with my right hand in a brace. At the end of 2010 I had a bit of a sore knee, so I sought refuge in the pool and on the bike. While on a bike ride I took a wet corner too sharp and crashed. I got some pretty good scrapes on my leg and ended up with a broken bone in my wrist. When people saw the brace on my right hand and asked, “What happened?,” I would reply, “Cross training.”

My parents showed, once again, who the favorite child is and took me to Hawaii. We spent a couple of days in Honolulu, then flying over to Kauai to see my Aunt Pauline. I had a wonderful time with my parents, as I always do, relaxing on the beach and eating some really good meals.

My final track seasons snuck up quickly, making my indoor debut at the Husky Classic. After a tough winter, I really wanted to see where I was at and go for a big PR in the 3k. Instead, I matched the same time I had ran at that meet three years prior, 8:26. At that meet I got to watch Chris Solinsky destroy a fairly solid field in the mile. I wrote a piece in homage of him and all the other members of the FTC crew.

Sharing the lead in the "5k" with Ahmed Osman and Andrew Belus

I took my first trip of the year to Pocatello, ID for the indoor conference champs. There was quite a fiasco in the 5k with us running an extra lap (5200m PR!). The 3k was another lack-luster performance for me and we lost the meet as a team by half a point. That was tough to take, especially since I knew I was capable of so much more.

Back to the Flagstaff trials I went and started logging my signature 100-mile weeks. I ran three consecutive centuries heading into my first outdoor meet at the Stanford Invitational. Finally I set a new PR in the 5k, running 14:37. I fell off a bit the last mile of the race, so I was confident with a little rest I would be able to bring that time down even more.

My next major race was my 25-lap debut, the 10k at the Mt. Sac Invitational. That whole race, meet, trip was an experience and one I won’t soon forget. I set myself up for a great time, hitting halfway in 14:52 and feeling good. 10k on the track is a delicate thing, as I learned that night, and pushing just a little too hard can make the wheels come right off. I struggled the last few kilometers. I rallied best I could the last lap and closed in a 31 second 200, passing another runner in the closing meters to finish in 30:01. That final kick would prove to be worth so much more than a couple seconds.

2011 I was fortunate to meet some amazing people, and Bernard Lagat was one of them. The amount of talent he has is just ridiculous. I asked him about world championship and Olympic races, and heard about some of his training. Thanks to David McNeill and Mo for inviting me over to share a few meals with this legend.

I like to think of myself as a pretty resilient runner. In my long running career, I have only had a few injuries. My 2010 track campaign, however, was canned with a sever case of Plica Syndrome in the knee. And after a steeplechase workout in April of 2011, my track season took a turn for the worse. Within days of the workout I wasn’t running — forced to cross train just a couple weeks before the conference championships. I went into the meet a little banged up, but determined to give it everything I had.

When the meet was all said and done, I had just two points to my name (thanks to a 7th place finish in the 10k) and the biggest blister I have ever seen! In terms of racing, it was probably one of my worst track meets ever. But it was clear that I made an impression on a few of my teammates, and that made it all worth it.

My season looked to be all but finished. There was still a very outside chance that I could qualify for the NCAA Preliminary round in the 10k, but things were not looking good. I was ranked 65th, and only 48 athletes were accepted. In perhaps the greatest miracle of my 24 years, I was given the chance to compete for NAU one more time.

I had booked my ticket to Eugene, OR and enjoyed every minute of that trip. I was well aware of the gravity of the situation — competing in my last track meet ever, in my first track meet ever in Track Town USA. My parents and my Farfar came to watch, which means so much to me now. At the conclusion of those 25 laps at Hayward Field, I effectively became once a runner.

With the end of collegiate athletics, I began a new dream in triathlons. I was now a “bona fide” collegiate recruit, identified by USA Triathlon, and began working with Ian Murray of Triathlon Training Series. Before things got too serious, I had some fun racing in the Tahoe Relays and spending time with friends back in Simi doing stuff like this…

I began my triathlon season at the Breath of Life in Ventura, winning for the second consecutive year. My swimming had improved a lot from 2010, but in ever race I would do in 2011, it was clear that a lot of work still needed to be done in the pool. I headed north for my next race: The San Francisco Triathlon at Treasure Island.

Once again I have the best supporters. Thank you to Danielle Hunt, Mo and her parents, Peg and Chris, for coming out to cheer me on!

This would be my first chance to earn an elite license by finishing within the top 3. I started the race out with a good swim, the best bike I have ever had, and a solid run to take the victory! I had such a good time that week with Mo and her family (and Danielle Hunt as well!) and capping it off with that win was special.

In July I spent about a week at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. I finally got to meet Barb Lindquist, who I owe a lot of my success as a triathlete to, as well as a few other athletes in the same boat with me.

At the end of August I traveled to Burlington, Vermont for the Age Group National Championships. I wanted to make it 3-for-3 on the year and take the W, but came up short. There were certainly some very talented athletes there, ones that I will hopefully have a chance to race again in the future.

Once I returned to Flagstaff for my last year of grad school, I morphed into Coach PD. I couldn’t just go cold turkey from the Lumberjack cross country team and I am very thankful Coach Heins asked me to join the coaching staff for the year. I had a great time traveling with the team to the meets, really enjoying the lack of nerves I am used to from lining up at the start line with a few hundred of the fittest athletes in the NCAA.

At this point I was now officially a pro triathlete, which most people assume means that I make money from the sport. Not yet. I went to the Interbike convention in Las Vegas to sell myself. I learned that I have a lot to learn in this department.

I continued to focus most of my energy on improving my swim. I did a 200-800 swim test to measure my improvement, and came up with 2:10/9:41 (3″/29″ improvements). I still got destroyed in my first pro race at the Myrtle Beach ITU Pan American Cup about a week later. Honestly I was just happy to finish the race and to be able to take away a few valuable lessons for next year.

Tim Freriks, a friend and runner on the cross country team, said this in a local newspaper interview:

LJ: From an athlete???s standpoint, there have been a lot of teammates, mentors and coaches that have influenced you as a player. Out of all of them in the past or present, who has influenced you the most in your career, or as a person?

TF: There are two big ones. One of which was my high school coach. He really influenced the mentality that I have now, working hard and grinding through it. And also Jason Pedersen; he???s a graduate assistant coach for us now. His mentality and work ethic is like second to none. He was running 110 miles a week, he ate right, slept well, [and was a] straight-A student in mechanical engineering, so it was a template I wanted to follow. He did it right and it paid off, so I want to do the same thing.

That made my day.

In November I jumped into a little race down in Phoenix, the AMICA 19.7 sprint. I had taken a bit of time off from the bike, and that was clear in that race. I finished only 26″ out of winning $500, and learned that you can’t fake anything in the professional ranks.

Finally, before 2011 was over, I wrote about my barrier to success. I swam 40,000 yards in a week for the first time, and planned to focus on the swim throughout the winter.

On to 2012!

Big Sky Indoor Championships

Holt Arena: home to Idaho State's wooden indoor track

A couple weeks ago now, the NAU track team traveled to Pocatello, ID for the Big Sky Indoor Championships at Idaho State’s Holt Arena. I, along with a few other lucky teammates, was signed up for the 5k-3k double. 40 laps is a lot of laps on a banked wooden track. 41 is even more.


Yes, you read that right. Five thousand and two hundred meters. They made us run an extra lap. So what, right? Everyone had to do it. What’s an extra lap. Well here is how it happened.

As we gathered on the starting line before the race, I noticed the lap counter was on the ground. An older fellow dressed in obnoxiously orange attire (Go Tigers!) was fiddling with the lap counter. From what I could discern, the first digit of the lap counter was stuck and he couldn’t get it to go to “2.” About this time I noticed the gun went up and got ready to start the race. I came by the first lap in a good position near the front. Still no lap counter. Finally, as we rounded our fourth bend, there was the lap counter, showing 24 laps remaining. This is a joke, right? Do they really think we just ran a 200m in 70 seconds? As each lap went by, I hoped they would correct their error, but to no avail. Eventually, I canned it and realized they had no clue. But then I started to wonder about the other competitors. Did they realize the mistake? When will they kick? Are they going to run the full 5.2k or will they stop when we are supposed to. As you might guess, this is a terrible state of mind to be in when racing.

Sharing the lead in the "5k" with Ahmed Osman and Andrew Belus

In the end we ended up running that extra 200m, and no one else in the field seemed to really notice. Of course I voiced my frustrations to one of the officials after I finished to which she replied, “Oh, it was off.” I guess I should give them some credit for thinking something might be off. Good work, gang. After the race, there was some talk about protesting the finish, because at 5000m NAU’s finishing places were 1-3-5-6-8 (24 points) as opposed to 2-3-5-6-7 (23 points). We decided that wasn’t fair and let it be.


By this point in the meet it had come down to a two-way dog fight between NAU and Sacramento State. Sac State had no one competing in the 3k, so it was up to the distance crew to close the gap on them. Before the race, a few of us made some very sarcastic comments to the officials about counting the laps correctly. I was happy I wasn’t the only one that was annoyed.

Diego took the race out at a solid pace, just like he had promised. Andrew Belus followed close behind and then I tucked in after him. Around we went, hitting the mile just under 4:30. I knew exactly where my race was, and that was right on Andrew’s heels, but I just couldn’t hang. A few runners slowly passed me, and Andrew continued to do battle up ahead. In the end, Diego won, Andrew was 4th was a huge PR of 8:25 (converts to ~8:15!), I was 6th in 8:35.53 and Tim Freriks was 7th.

Our 4×4 team somehow managed to win even though they were in the slower heat. We thought everything was working out perfectly. Then they read the scores: we lost the meet by HALF A POINT! Brutal. Now that mistake in the 5k hurts even more, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. I’m proud of the team as a whole, and especially John Yatsko, for rallying behind each other. This was definitely NOT the most talented team NAU has taken to a Big Sky Track Championship, but, since I have been here, it was the best team effort.

A little side note: in 2008 the Indoor Championships were also hosted by Idaho State. On that occasion, Sacramento State won both men’s and women’s titles, like this year. In 2008, NAU went to Sacramento for the Outdoor Championship and took the men’s title home. By chance, the Outdoor Championships are in Sacramento once again. Will history repeat itself? You know what I think.

FTC: For The Chubs

You may have heard of the acronym FTW before, which of course means For The Win, not Fuck The World. Generally this term is used in competition, as in you are going “for the win,” or to say something is the best. Like “BlackBerry Messenger FTW.” The corollary to FTW is FTL (For The Loss). Obviously no one actually goes “for the loss” in competition, so this one is more often associated with things that suck (e.g. “Storm FTL”). Several other versions have been made up, including FTC (For The Chubs).

FTC Crew: Me, Andrew Belus & Tim Freriks

I can’t take credit for FTC. First person I heard it from was Michael Cybulski, who has been known to come up with a good line or two. Like many of the figures of speech my Simi Valley friends come up with, I shared FTC with the Flagstaff crew. At first it was fairly funny, as it started to come up after cross country season was over when several of us were putting on a few (9 lb in a week for yours truly). But then something strange happened: some of us began to embrace it — especially Tim Freriks, Andrew Belus and myself.

Just so we are clear, we aren’t just letting loose and eating cheeseburgers all day. It is really a realization, which I came to accept a while ago, that I’m a little bigger than a lot of my competitors. Look at the very best distance runners in the world and most are pretty thin. Now there are a few exceptions, and they are the ones that give us hope. Leading the charge is Chris Solinsky. The guy broke 27:00 and 13:00 last year, giving hope to white FTC guys like me. When we saw him run 3:54 at University of Washington a couple weeks ago, the three of us couldn’t help but shout “FTC!” every now and again. Chris, if you’re listening, don’t take it the wrong way. It is a sign of respect.

Our leader, Chris Solinsky

Tonight and tomorrow the FTC crew will be setting fire to Idaho State’s wooden track at the Big Sky Conference Championships. We will be running 120 laps between the three of us, as we are all doubling in the 5k and 3k. I like to think of the FTC crew as work horses for the team. . . outlasting our competition with our slow-burning fat stores.

So if you are in attendance, shout “FTC” to us. We won’t be offended, we know exactly what it means.

Husky Classic 3000

Saturday I opened up my 2011 track campaign with a 3000 at the Husky Classic at the University of Washington in Seattle. I was entered in an altitude converted 8:22 from 2008, which only put me in the 5th of 6 heats. This meant that I would be racing in the morning session at around 8:20. Luckily I had my young friend, and roommate for the weekend, Tim Freriks in my heat. Throughout the weekend we traded off reassuring each other that the race would be at 9:20 Mountain time. So much better, right?

We woke up at 6:15 and I got down a bowl of my favorite Coach’s Oats. At around 6:45 we hopped in Coach Mo’s van with a couple milers, Caleb Potts and John Yatsko, that were racing a couple heats after me and Tim. We arrived to the Dempsey (UW’s 307m indoor track) around 7 and Tim and I got to warming up after a little bit of stretching. After my warm up I had a Gu with caffeine. I am fairly new to the caffeine craze as I’m not a coffee drinker and I rarely drink tea. I have read some interesting articles professing that it boosts performance. Sounds shady, but if everyone is doing it…

When I finally spiked up and made my way to the outside lanes of the track I got that old, familiar feeling that you only get before track races. It had been too long. I took a look at some of my competitors and it struck me how young they all looked! How old am I? I should have asked if anyone was born after March 1993. (As loyal readers of RunPD I don’t have to tell you the significance of that date, right?) I thought to myself, “I wonder if any of these guys have raced at cross country nats three times?” Doubt it. Too bad I have already gone over how track is a different sport.

Leading Heat 5 of the 3000 at the Husky Classic

I should have known that my first race back on the track would have a false start. I think I could devote an entire post to false start experiences I have had and what goes on in my head after one… maybe if I have another false start this season. In trad-PD fashion, I got out great on the second start and made my way onto the leader’s outside shoulder by the first turn. The pace felt very comfortable, but I figured it was still honest as the first, and “slower” heat went out in 66. No such luck for us. “69!….70!….” It took me about half a second to realize this pace was unacceptable and wouldn’t even get me under the Big Sky qualifying standard of 8:30. I took the lead and pulled the field through the next 400 66. From there the original leader came back to the front and took us through 1600 in 4:32 — still just on 8:30 pace. The last kilometer or so things really started to heat up with a few different surges, including a valiant one by Tim. I really should have chosen one of those surges to latch onto, but instead I kinda just slowly picked it up. Poor form on my part. How many times has someone said “he just slowly picked it up toward the end of the race” when describing a great track race? Never. I ended up running 8:26, the same time that I ran here three years ago. Ughhh!

After feeling rather disappointed in my effort for a few moments, I convinced myself it was a good rust buster. I got a conference qualifier and this race was something to build on. I’m hoping my workouts will continue to get better and better and I can have my best Big Sky track meet yet.

Watch more video of Flotrack Husky Classic 2011 on flotrack.org


2011 Indoor Debut

My 2011 Indoor season opener will be this Saturday at the Husky Classic at the University of Washington. I will be running my first sea level 3000 since 2008, where I ran 8:26 in the very same meet. At the time I was very pleased to be well under the conference qualifying mark of 8:30. I went on to run an altitude adjusted 8:22 at the Big Sky Championships at Idaho State a couple weeks later. Despite all that I have done and accomplished as a runner since that race, I can still only call myself an ???8:20???s guy.??? I want that to change this weekend.

Considering the little hiccups I have had in my training since cross country (a bit of a nagging knee injury and a broken wrist), I feel like my workouts have been superb. Just as I had hoped, each session feels better than the last ??? leaving me more confident for my final track season looming on the horizon. How fit am I? It???s difficult to say, but Saturday???s race should give me a pretty good clue.

I get the feeling Coach Heins is on the same page as me. What am I capable of right now? Before Wednesday night???s workout, Coach told me he wanted me to go out in 68s and make sure i went under the conference qualifying mark of 8:30. I proceeded to put together perhaps my best eight 400???s in succession ever. And I felt great doing it too. So after a rather sleepless night (I seem to struggle to get a good night???s sleep after 7pm workouts when I have practice again at 8am??? or maybe I???m just that antsy to race?), I decided to speak with Coach. ???I got a time in my head: 8:15. 8:15 is not 68???s.??? He replied with a chuckle and agreed that I am probably capable of something under 8:20. In short, I have permission to go for it??? just as long as it doesn???t cost me the conference mark.

NAU is bringing other distance runners in search of new PR???s and conference, or in some cases, national qualifying marks. Diego Estrada has found himself in the fastest 3000 heat of the weekend, featuring numerous professionals and some of the greatest collegiate runners the rubber oval has ever seen. Diego has one of the best attitudes about racing that I have ever come across ??? a lot of confidence with a strong desire to lead and a splash of ignorance ??? and it is refreshing to be around. I have no doubts he will stick his nose in it. I wish them all good luck and I???m sure we will all return to Flagstaff as more accomplished runners than when we left this afternoon.

This trip brings back fond memories of the last time I was in Seattle. It reminds me of the ???old??? crew, and specifically my ex-teammate, ex-roommate, and now long distance friend Nell Rojas, who calls Spain home these days. We had a lot of fun on these trips, which we try to relive as often as possible on Skype. If it weren???t for that 8 hour time difference we probably would spend more time recounting these memories than we did living them the first time around. Running has given me many of my closest relationships.

Time permitting, I may have a race report up on Saturday or Sunday. Stay tuned???

Track is a different sport

Welcome to February. Most of the country is being bombarded with subzero temps and, in a few places, massive snow storms. Luckily for Flagstaff, we only have the former. In fact, while the last two days have been painfully cold, this is hands down the best winter that Flagstaff has had since I have been here. Of course, this is coming from a distance runner who thinks there is no such thing as a bad day if you get to run on dirt trails under blue skies. I have a feeling the ski/snowboard enthusiasts in town don’t agree.

This mild winter couldn’t come at a better time for us. NAU’s Skydome, where our 300m indoor track is located, is being renovated. We’ve been promised it is going to be real nice when it is all done, but in the meantime we are stuck doing workouts at 7pm. Certainly not ideal, so we try to do most workouts outside, weather permitting. But it could be worse. And besides, the cold weather makes us tough, right? It will better prepare us for those tough, cold races… oh wait, it isn’t cross country season anymore! Track is a different sport. There is no “leveling the playing field” in track — there is just a lot of left turns on a flat battlefield with nothing to hide behind. “I’ll start rolling down that hill at halfway” doesn’t exist here. This is where lactic acid thrives and speed trumps all.

Success on the track has been tough to come by for me. As a freshman I ran 3:59 for 1500 and 9:15 in the steeplechase. The next year I ran my first 5k in 14:50 and just missed qualifying for Regionals with a 9:09 in the steeple. Sadly, 3:59/14:50/9:09 are still my PRs three years later. Since then I have ran at nationals in cross country three times, placing 194th, 95th and 87th and scoring for two top-10 teams. Amongst the team there is a bit of a joke about the “studs” little-old-14:50-me has beaten on the cross country course (I get extra points for the sub-4:00 milers I have outkicked). There is no doubt I’m a better runner now then when I ran those times, but I have nothing to show for it on the track. I have some great excuses — red shirting 2009 and knee surgery in 2010 — but I don’t want to be one of those guys people talk about and say “he was a pretty good runner, but he never put it together on the track.” I have finished up my cross country eligibility satisfied with what I accomplished, but track is a different sport, and 2011 will be my final opportunity to put it all together.

Now I was a little banged up over winter break, but I would be foolish to think my last collegiate season would come without some adversity. Every time I go out on the track PRs aren’t going to happen just because I’m convinced I’m a better runner now than I was a few years ago. The work needs to be put in and I need to be ready for battle every race. If I do that I know I will be competing at Hayward Field at the end of May, satisfied.

Here’s to making the next four months count.